Monday, March 28, 2005

Review - Michael Schacht's Paris Paris

If I got to take a European vacation, Paris would definitely be on my list. I’m sure it would be on the dream vacation list of many other people that don’t live in France or the nearby EU countries. Until I can save up enough cash for a month in Europe, I’ll have to visit Paris by playing games on the Parisian city map.

Successful retail operations need good locations to thrive. Businesses catering to tourists need to be along the routes where tourists travel, which mean bus stops. Michael Schacht’s game Paris Paris is about putting up businesses where tourists frequent. You can’t make money unless you’re where your market is. The more they see of you, the more they’ll be likely to walk into your premises and spend their Euros or pull out the plastic.

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Paris Paris is published by Abacus Spiele and Rio Grande Games. It’s a pretty package, with a linen-finished two-fold board depicting the city of Paris and its five bus routes. The bus stop tiles are also linen finished, and are pleasantly thick. The game even has a little stand-up bus for use as a starting player marker and a scoring guide. The package has a black cloth bag, and 80 wooden houses in four colors. The yellow and unpainted houses can be a bit difficult to differentiate under some lighting conditions; I wish they’d used brighter colors. Finally, there are five largish, oval-shaped, somewhat overproduced “secret bus route tiles”. All in all it’s a very nice product. I just wish that they’d made the board four-fold to reduce the game box’s footprint by 50%. Half the box is air, filled in with a cardboard insert. Yes, it’s a small quibble.

The Game

The players are Parisian business owners trying to grab as much profit as possible from the tourists who visit their fair city. The player who makes the most money by setting up businesses where the tourists are wins the game.

Players prepare for the game by randomly placing the 60 bus stop tiles into stacks. A stack has one more tile than there are players. Once the stacking is done, players each draw a “secret bus route tile” and keep that to themselves.

Bus stop tiles are one of five colors, the color representing the bus route that the stop lies on. Stops at intersections may appear tiles of different colors, since they lie on more than one route.

In a turn, one stack of tiles will be revealed and the tiles placed on the map points corresponding to their stop names. Beginning with the start player, each player selects one of the tiles in turn. At that stop, the player will open a business, placing one of his houses. If the location already has the maximum businesses allowed (two for intersections, one for all others), the player selects one business to displace. The displaced business goes into the cloth bag.

Once each player has claimed a tile and placed a business, one unclaimed tile will remain. At that stop, a “small tour” will occur and tourists will spend money.

If a player has a business at that stop, he earns one point. If there is no business at that stop, the closest stop with a business will be the one where the tourists go. If more than one business is of equal distance to the original stop, all of them earn a point.

Then, the tile is placed in the “grand tour display”. It will remain there until a second tile of the same color is placed in the display. The start player bus is passed to the left, and the new start player selects a new stack of tiles to place on the board.

Play continues until a second tile of the same color is placed in the grand tour display. Once that happens, a grand tour occurs on that bus route. Tourists go on a spending spree all along that line, concentrated at the intersections.

The start player takes the bus token and places it at the beginning of the line. He then drives the bus along the line, and stops at the first intersection. Any players with businesses at that stop earn one point, and an additional point for each business that they have at stops adjacent to that intersection. The bus continues the grand tour down the line, stopping at every intersection to disgorge tourists and score points for the business owners along the line.

Once the grand tour is completed, the two matching colored tiles are removed from the grand tour display and play continues. The game ends when all the stacks of tiles have been used.

At game end, two special scoring events occur. First, an additional “special grand tour” occurs on each of the lines indicated by the “secret bus route tiles” drawn by the players at the beginning of the game. These work the same way as the regular grand tour. Finally, the businesses in the cloth bag are revealed. If one player has more businesses in the bag than any other player, he gets a bonus to his score equal to the number of his houses in the bag.

The player with the most points after all of that is the most successful business owner, and wins the game!

Strategy

Paris Paris is played on two fronts, the map and the tiles.

On the map, forming networks of adjacent businesses is critical. Of particular note are adjacent intersections. These positions score their businesses twice on the same tour if they are on the same line. In the same vein, it is important to break up your opponents’ networks at adjacent intersections whenever possible.

While you try to select the tiles that give you an advantage on the map, you also need to watch the tiles that lead to grand tours. Many times, you will have the decision of allowing a grand tour which is not favorable for you, but will give you an advantage in future grand tours, as against denying a grand tour now but giving up board position. You also can’t forget that the unselected tile scores the business at that point or adjacent ones if that point is empty. It’s a point here and there, but it adds up.

The bit of luck in the game comes from the secret special tour tiles. A second scoring of a strong bus route can mean victory or defeat, especially in the two and three player game where only three of the five bus routes will get a special grand tour. If it bothers you, you can dispense with the special tours, or make them public knowledge at the beginning of the game. Either way works fine in producing a luckless, heavier variant of the game.

Finally, the “ejected businesses” scoring can be significant if you’re not paying attention.

Reviewer’s Tilt

The first time I played Paris Paris on Brettspielwelt, I disliked the game. It seemed too simple, too sanguine, and quite random. Months later I got to play the game face to face with my game group, who played it viciously. That unlocked the appeal of the game for me, and now I consider it to be an excellent 30- to 45-minute light-medium weight game. There are tough decisions, especially when it comes to denying scoring to other players or building your own network for future bus tours. Despite that, the game plays quickly. I attribute it to being a very visual exercise. Tracing the bus routes with your eyes can tell you rapidly which players a grand tour along that line would benefit most.

Paris Paris plays very well with two to four players. I like the game with four because of the competition to establish the business network. There is much more control with three, but networks are easier since you can have two businesses at each intersection. The game is weakest but still pretty good with two, becoming a relaxing game of optimization (the “ejected business” scoring is dispensed with in this mode).

By the way, this isn’t an area majority game as you may have read in some places. Players generally end up with similar numbers of businesses on the map, since you all get the same number of turns. Only business displacement will change that mix. It shares more in common with Power Grid’s city connections and Taj Mahal’s political power networks than it does with any element of the vastly inferior Web of Power.

If you’re looking for a 30- to 45-minute game with tough decisions, good theme and great presentation, you could do much worse than Paris Paris.

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